Just saying Provence conjures up a scene of summer, of air filled with the scent of lavender, the tangy aroma of freshly pressed olive oil and the sound of cicadas singing. In winter though, there’s nothing quite like the sight of the snow-capped peak of the Sainte-Victoire Mountain. Provence really is a year round destination which offers a taste of the good life in a way that’s truly unique. Genuine joie de vivre is found in every corner of Provence, from villages and historic towns to the mountains and untamed countryside.
- Marseille, the city on the edge of the MediterraneanMarseille makes for a fabulous first port of call. On arrival, head to the Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde to greet the “Bonne Mère” (the Good Mother) who watches over the city from her 160 meter (525 feet) high perch. Peek inside at the suspended model boats – votive offerings, and colourful mosaics. Outside, there are breath-taking views over the city, sea and the harbour which is crowned by the fabulous contemporary museum of Mucem (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations). A footbridge runs between the museum and the old Fort Saint-Jean, symbolising the cultural crossroads of the Mediterranean.
- Aix-en-Provence, at the foot of the Sainte-Victoire mountainIn Aix-en-Provence, take a break from shopping in the chic boutiques to admire the architectural treasures of the town nicknamed “little Versailles” thanks to its classically proportioned mansions and elegant baroque town hall. Walk in the footsteps of the great painter Cézanne, a son of Aix-en-Provence, and visit his studio at Les Lauves. Enjoy the most sublime views of the Sainte-Victoire Mountain from the nearby Esplanade Cezanne, a sight which inspired the artist to capture its beauty in more than 80 paintings.
- The Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux-de-ProvenceLes Baux-de-Provence in Les Alpilles, is one of the most beautiful hilltop villages of Provence. Carved into arid white rock, this small town is home to some twenty historic monuments dotted around its cobbled streets – including an ancient castle. Don’t miss the Carrières de Lumières, a gallery in a former quarry that’s now dedicated to extraordinary, immersive art exhibitions.
- Avignon, city of the PopesIn Avignon, discover the ancient Papal state in the Rhone Valley. The dazzling architecture of the UNESCO listed historic centre was shaped by the Popes who lived there. The jewel in the crown is without a doubt the Palace of the Popes. It’s the largest Gothic palace in the western world and was home to nine successive Popes in the 14th century. In the courtyard of the Palace, the famous Festival of Avignonwas founded in 1947. 25 rooms, from the chapels with their incredible frescoes to the apartments of the Pope, provide a stunning backdrop for the arts and exhibitions.
Art de vivre in Provence
The art of the good life in Provence is enhanced by its vineyards. From the Mediterranean port town of Bandolin Var, renowned for its deep reds to the great wines of Côtes du Rhôneand Châteauneuf-du-Pape, there are endless wine trails to relish. Along the way, you’ll experience the pleasures of Provence: take in an opera performed in the glorious Roman theatre of Orange – it’s an unforgettable experience, and marvel at the colourful markets, filled with the fragrance of Provence…
Nature puts on a show
A visit to Provence is also about immersing yourself in its exceptional natural landscape. Whether by car, on foot or by bike à la Tour de France, don’t miss a trip up Mont Ventoux, known as the giant of Provence (1911 meters/6269 feet high). The splendour of the Gorges du Verdon, the largest canyon in Europe, lined with emerald waters is astounding. Or you might prefer to discover the Camargue and explore its vast wild spaces of land and water where the famous white horses and bulls graze alongside wild pink flamingos.
Gastronomy of Provence
Life in Provence is intensified by its gastronomic specialties and the flavours grown from its rich earth. The fruity olive oil which, mixed with capers and olives makes tasty tapenade, and the aromatic herbs of Provence make a marvellous addition to so many dishes. In Marseille, try the bouillabaisse, an iconic fish soup, and in Martigues, the local speciality, poutargue, is a caviar made from the eggs of mullet or tuna. Sun-baked vegetables feature in dishes like ratatouille, delicious with Camargue rice, or soup au pistou flavoured with piquant basil. Enjoy them raw with anchoïade, a sauce made with anchovies, capers and garlic, or boiled with cod and aioli (garlic mayonnaise). For the sweet toothed, crystallised fruit, a specialty of of Apt, or Calissons d’Aix, almond and orange blossom flavoured biscuits, will definitely hit the mark.